As a child, I became interested in fish after reading Dr. Seuss’ “McElligot’s Pool,” and I have always wanted to witness the migration of alewives. I have seen a few alewives leaping up streams over the years, but I wanted to see thousands of alewives.
So, I went for the weekend to see my cousin Betsy Evans in Nobleboro. Together, we went to the Fish Ladder Restoration Festival in Damariscotta Mills. There, a saltwater bay and freshwater river meet.
Damariscotta River drops 42 feet to connect Damariscotta Lake to the bay below. We walked slowly on a path close to the river looking for fish. In the water, alewives look bluish-gray, with silvery glistening sides. Alewives are mainly a marine species, returning to fresh water only to spawn. There were many birds also looking for fish.
At the start of our walk we saw 200 herring gulls, 50 cormorants, six black-backed gulls, three ospreys and one bald eagle. Each has its own way of catching a fish.
Gulls sit on the water; cormorants sit and dive, great blue herons stand in shallow water; and ospreys fly high up, then dive down with talons first. Eagles catch fish near the surface of the water or chase a successful osprey. When the eagle is close, the osprey gets scared and drops its fish. In the air, the eagle grabs the fish and flies away.
Other animals eat alewives, too — striped bass, tuna, eels, largemouth bass, pickerel and other freshwater and saltwater fish. Betsy once watched a largemouth bass in Damariscotta Lake, staying still. One quick grab, and an alewife was eaten up by the bass.
We saw thousands of alewives — more fish than water. A field ichthyologist told us that in 10 minutes, she counted 188 alewives coming into the lake from the river, and that 300,000 alewives come up into the lake each year.
The towns of Nobleboro and Newcastle, Friends of the Alewives and Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association are all working to have many alewives in their area.
Join professional photographer Andy Anderson 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden for instruction and discussion on how and why to adjust photos with photo-processing software. Bring a few digital photos (on a card) and your lunch. The cost is $25 members, $30 others. Advance registration is required at 989-2591.
For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.